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Inside Matters

Inside Matters

March 01
12:32 2022

TECH STACK—OR LEANING TOWER OF PISA?

Evolving area requires frequent analysis of “insurtech” components

 

Too often, agencies layer insurtechs one ontop of

the other without stopping to analyze how they might work

together and without determining which

might be better employed or not employed at all.

 

By Mary M. Belka, CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC, CPIW


“Tech stack” is a relatively new term that has already evolved in its meaning, depending upon the situation. To developers, a tech stack refers to a set of tools used to create applications, including websites, web pages, or mobile apps, consisting of applications, frameworks, and programming languages that realize some aspect of the program being created.

For a growing number of agencies, tech stack has also become a handy, descriptive term to refer to the collection of technology software tools employed by the organization; that is the meaning we focus on here. There are many benefits-specific components to consider, but in this article, we’ll focus primarily on property and casualty tech stack components.

The components now considered basic to effective agency operations generally include the following:

  •  Agency management system

o Often can be run in a cloud environment

o Usually includes accounting/full financial and document management functionality

o Some include text messaging and voicemail storage document management functionality

o Microsoft suite of products (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint) may or may not be integrated

o Some agencies may use separate accounting software, even when the system includes accounting functionality

o Some may use shared drives (and other areas, including Outlook folders) for some document storage

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software

o Some may use the agency management system for this purpose; others use software specifically designed for CRM

o If separate software, integration with the management system is limited, resulting in data overlap

  • Email (overwhelmingly Outlook)
  • E-signature
  • Electronic file-sharing
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) or “writable” software, which can include basic PDF software functionality or more complex forms library functionality; while helpful, most have integration limitations with AMS and/or other insurtech solutions
  • Third-party personal lines rating system
  • Certificate issuance (agency and/or client-facing)
  • Front-end scanning
  • Phone system
  • Carrier web-based rating system(s)
  • Multiple screen environment
  • Videoconferencing (became a lifeline during pandemic-enforced remote working, and is definitely here to stay, for both employee and client meetings)
  • Reference resources/libraries
  • Time clock and other human resources software to aid in talent management

Emerging insurtech solutions increasingly incorporate methods for agencies to bypass or at least reduce the duplication traditionally involved in sharing data between interested parties. These insurtech offerings create hope for solving issues that stymied agencies’ efforts to increase efficiencies and profitability—and offer a better experience for their clients.

The following are just a sampling of the many general categories increasingly employed by agencies seeking better solutions:

  • End-to-end data gathering and sharing software, starting with client, and including agent/broker, and carrier—cutting out the “back and forth” duplication, particularly prevalent in commercial lines new business and renewal submission processes
  • Commercial lines quoting, especially for small commercial
  • Claims reporting and client onboarding
  • Digital newsletters, messaging, blogs, and “interviewing” software—some with artificial intelligence (AI) components
  • AI-based policy-checking software

Tech stack genesis

Most agencies did not start out tocreate a tech stack; most automated gradually over the past several decades, adding pieces here and there, as perceived needs arose or to play “catch-up” as their worlds evolved. Few agencies employed a true digital strategy, whereby components are considered and added (or not) in order to achieve specific, strategic goals related to growth, retention, and/or profitability.

Employing a digital strategy

Taking stock of your current tech stack in order to create the best strategy is the first step. It’s a lot like a renovation project—determine the components that you know work well, eliminate what is no longer needed, and add the necessary components to achieve your stated goals. It’s hard to fathom but, yes, some primitive technology components have outlived their usefulness. In some cases, they may not have ever been used to their full potential; so be it—it’s time to retool.

Once established, this is a process you can rinse and repeat, at least on an annual basis, along with the other aspects of your strategic planning.

Becoming dependent on insurtech includes challenges. A relationship with a reputable, knowledgeable IT firm that specializes in advising and supporting insurance agencies is invaluable to realizing your goals. This is no longer something that can be accomplished internally, and quality expertise is affordable and available to all agencies large and small. This is no longer optional—it is a must.

It always bears mentioning that cyber liability risk potential should be taken into consideration with any insurtech solutions—the subject of a column for a different day.

Step One—Identify all existing components and expense. Be relentless—identify all existing technology applications being used by anyone for anything and why it’s being used. Your spreadsheet should include: applications, versions, number of licenses, who is using it, how each individual employing the software is using it, cost basis, annual cost, and whether or not it is cloud-based. All contracts should be reviewed.

Step Two—Eliminate that which is no longer needed. Cleanup of any software that is truly no longer needed is the next step. This may include applications that some may want to continue to use. It is important to eliminate these applications to avoid duplication, move closer to operational consistency, streamline processes and training, and reduce the potential for errors and omissions.

Step Three—Identify underused functionality of remaining components—and refresh. Once the need has been established, the insurtech in question should be reintroduced and reimplemented if necessary, complete with training, in order to reestablish its required use in your environment. The used of insurtech tools should not be optional; achieving your goals depends on everyone using all tools effectively. It is important to engage staff, communicate goals, and tie compensation and performance reviews to the proper use of your tech stack.

Be sure to address any potential areas of duplication if it cannot be avoided (for instance, an agency management system, CRM software, and Outlook all include “activities/tasks”). The agency must decide which functionality may or may not be used in a particular insurtech, or used differently by various employee groups, due to overlap/duplication. This requires that someone in the agency must understand how all insurtechs actually work and interact, and that procedures clearly reflect these decisions.

Step Four—Establish digital strategy—identify and research any missing pieces to the puzzle. This is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities of operations management—identifying and researching insurtech solutions that could help your agency achieve its growth, profitability, retention and talent management goals into the future.

The expected ROI metrics should be established for monitoring results. If the new insurtech replaces other tools and/or processes, this is part of the implementation process—and critical to your ROI. Streamlining on an ongoing basis is essential.

Today, the importance of integration and coordination with existing insurtech is critical to the successful implementation of any application. Are your various insurtechs willing to facilitate integration for a better result? This can be researched during demos and peer review prior to purchase and implementation.

Budgeting and “triaging” the timeline for insurtech implementation is part of the planning process and should not be omitted. It is recommended that the agency contact three to five agencies who have purchased and employed any insurtech; they should be as similar as possible to your operation for comparison purposes. Your network partner should be able to weigh in as well, with valuable insights. Speak to those who actually use the software—not just owners who may not use it on a daily basis. Seek honest feedback and tangible results.

Step Five—Implementation, including training. An implementation plan should be created for any insurtech solutions, including: reasons for purchase; expectations for improvement in operations as a result of purchase, expected implementation timeline, integration and/or coordination with other insurtech and procedures, and training schedule. Insurtech providers often offer only online training, or training by individuals who have not necessarily worked in an agency setting. It is important to determine the appropriate training needed, and employ whatever means are necessary, which could vary by employee, for your staff to become properly trained in all aspects of your tech stack, for the best result.

Step Six—Audit for ROI and adjust as needed. This is the differentiating factor between those agencies who buy technology and those who actually realize a return on their insurtech investments. Without monitoring for results, how can you know how—or if—something is working?

The myth of the fifth leg

At the risk of mixing my metaphors, I have watched as agencies attempt to improve results by sewing a proverbial fifth leg onto the racehorse. It truly will not help the horse run any faster! Adding the latest insurtech offering to your agency “horse” without proper consideration will not make it run any faster—it could even slow your horse down!

The goal is to create a tech stack that is firmly founded in and supported by your strategic plan. Doing so helps you avoid building something that begins to collapse under its own weight.

Too often, agencies layer insurtechs one on top of the other without stopping to analyze how they might work together and without determining which might be better employed, or not employed at all, as our world continues to evolve. Some agencies have fallen prey to the “next best thing” without analyzing the big picture.

No one insurtech can do it all—but regularly evaluating your tech stack effectiveness is a worthy goal to determine what truly is the next best thing, and how you might leverage it.

The author

Mary M. Belka is owner and CEO of Eisenhart Consulting Group, Inc., providing management and operations consulting to the insurance industry.She also is an endorsed agency E&Oauditor for Swiss Re/Westport. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Mary holds the CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC, and CPIW designations.

About Author

Jim Brooks

Jim Brooks

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